The Supermarket Tricks You Need To Avoid To Save While Shopping

You might have a good set of tactics while shopping at your local supermarket. But are you savvy to the subtle ways food stores (and other retailers) get you to buy more? There might be a few tricks you’ve fallen prey to in the past.

Our fellow bargain hunter at Consumer Reports, Tod Marks, explains the eight things every shopper should be aware of as they walk down the aisles. And having the proper strategies to combat these tricks will help you save money at the checkout counter.

What are the tips and trick you use to avoid food bill shock?


Edit Your Comment

  1. John says:

    I walk each aisle, looking up and down, and putting anything that interests me in the cart.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      You’re being manipulated. That’s just what they want you to do!

      • Jawaka says:

        I may also be what he wants to do.

        Just because a person does what someone else wants them to do doesn’t mean that they’re being manipulated.

        • dwasifar says:

          You may indeed also be what he wants to do, but if so, that has nothing to do with groceries.

          We hope.

  2. Cicadymn says:

    The only thing I like less than lists, are lists in video form.

  3. DogiiKurugaa says:

    The most important thing to know for BOGOs is your store’s policy regarding them. Some stores require you to get two of an item to get the one free while others are actually selling the item at 50% off and are using trickery to try and get you to purchase a second one.

  4. Telekinesis123 says:

    I only buy things on sale generally, when my bill is tallied up and they tell you how much you saved it’s usually between 30-40%. If something is not on sale I don’t buy it and adjust what I eat if need be to what was on sale and when I come back what was not on sale usually is. Generally there is overlap in my stocks from visits so that I don’t have to go without anything.

    • Bibliovore says:

      Sometimes an on-sale item still costs more than a non-sale equivalent — or even, by volume, than a different size of the same product that’s not on sale.

      • Telekinesis123 says:

        Yep that is still an important thing to look for, you have to look at the unit price, but don’t buy so much it goes bad when dealing with perishables.

  5. Stevestr80020 says:

    I agree. Lists in video form suck.

  6. eccsame says:

    Anyone feel like typingthese out for those of us who don’t care enough to watch the video?

    • nishioka says:

      1) Don’t buy shit you don’t need
      2) Supermarkets are evil bastards

    • Hi_Hello says:

      here’s a dumb down version.

      I took the time to look up obstacle… that’s the best I can do. I”m lazy.

      1. obstacle course

      2. low shelves – cheaper

      3. lights make things look good

      4. snack items in your way

      5. oversize cart

      6. 10/$10.00 dont need to buy 10.

      7. flyers – items not always on sale

      8. beware of have to buy to get the free.

    • Agent Hooter Enjoys Enhanced Patdowns says:

      Or for those of us at work who can’t watch videos.

  7. Rick Sphinx says:

    Got to know your prices. What seems like a deal may not be. Use UNIT PRICING to compare, not the price tag; often find 2 smaller packages are cheaper per unit, than 1 large package. Buy store brands when you can, some products don’t compare, but green beans are green beans, no difference between brand name and store brand. Many stores offer satisfaction gaurentee on store brands, if you don’t like it, return it. Look on the bottom shelves for lower pirced items, eye level is where the highest prices, or highest profit items are. When you see a real bargin, grab extra (if it will keep long enough). Watch unit pricing, especially on laundry degergent, it’s a math nightmare, some are per quart price, some per load, it’s crazy in that case.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      I wrote a little database for my home web server just to track the prices I pay for things. It’s worked out very well when I look at the weekly ads and can compare.

      • Youngfrankenstein says:

        Tell me more. I’ve always wanted to try this. On the items I buy most of the time, should I be buying it at the discount store, on sale at the regular store, or save up for the warehouse club. For example, if I’ve decided I always want Tide, where is my best bet? Is this what you mean?

    • sqlrob says:

      Comparing unit pricing does not always work (or, more accurately, comparing unit pricing as put on the shelf may not work)

      I’ve seen competing items where the unit price in one was oz and the unit price of another was in g, or for soda where one is in oz and one is in cans (both in cans, so it’s not like comparing a 2L bottle to a sixpack).

      • George4478 says:

        I take a bunch of ancient Greeks with me to the grocery store and let them work these newfangled skills called “math” to convert between cans and ounces. etc. When they can’t make it (due to some tragedy or something) I borrow a “calculator” which helps me out. Never again will the per ounce price of a six pack of Coke foil my shopping skills! :-)

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Thankfully my phone as an easy to use calculator, otherwise, I’d be there for hours doing math on pieces of paper. :)

    • Portlandia says:

      I always do unit pricing but I HATE HATE HATE doing it for paper towels and toilet paper. They’re all intentionally misleading because most shelf tags go by roll which is impossible to compare. It comes down to comparing price between square feet of paper which must be calculated by hand. They never include that measurement on the tag.

  8. gman863 says:

    1. Store brands. A gallon of Clorox is $1.89; store brand is $1.00. Both have 6.25% chlorine.

    2. Not all deals are in the newspaper ad. Scan the shelves in the immediate area of the item you’re buying. An in-store special or coupon may give you a lower price than the store brand.

    3. Stock up on sale items you know you’ll use. Paper products, shampoo and cleaning products don’t expire; boxed dinners and canned goods will stay fresh for a year or more. I save an average of 40-50% on the brands I like by doing this.

    • TheBigWhiteWolf says:

      Careful! sometimes that store brand bleach is 4 liters instead of 1 gallon. Definitely gotta watch the unit pricing on this one.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      My store also shows “discontinued” items, and sometimes it’s just a different flavor or scent of something, and they mark it down 50% right off the bat. If I have a coupon, and it’s something I use, score! I can get it for next to nothing since the store also doubles coupons. I got Tide with Febreeze powder in a big box for $6.99 this way a few months back.

    • DogiiKurugaa says:

      Actually, shampoo does expire. It is just that most shampoo bottles don’t have them on the packaging. When it expires the chemicals in it separate and it is basically worthless for its purpose of cleaning hair.

      • gman863 says:

        When I say “doesn’t expire”, I’m not planning to stock a bomb shelter with a 40 year supply.

        I rotate the stock in my bathroom closet and use the oldest first. Even at around 18 months old, the shampoo works just fine. Ditto for deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

    • Debbie says:

      “1. Store brands. A gallon of Clorox is $1.89; store brand is $1.00. Both have 6.25% chlorine.”

      But read the label anyway. Yesterday I saw that
      1) Quaker granola bars do not have trans fats but some store brands do.
      2) Nestles Juicy Juice is 100% juice, but some store brands with the same look have 50%.
      I’m sure there are hundreds more, so always read the label.

  9. synergy says:

    Videos: surefire way to guarantee I’ll close the tab. I read faster than most people babble.

  10. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    I think the most important is that when you see a “10 to $10” sign you don’t have to buy ten of them…they’re just $1 each. At least that’s the way it works in my state…maybe it varies.

    The other thing relates to dollar stores, but I see people fall for it. I go to our dollar store a lot…and a lot of what you can get there is a good deal. But just because you see something on sale there, don’t assume it’s a good deal for a buck. I often see stuff there that you can get a better deal on at Aldi, if not Walmart et al. Be knowledgeable about the prices of what you’re buying, by piece/weight/volume.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Oh…and even pay attention to such stuff within the store itself.

      One thing I like to get at the dollar store is candy. For example, Lemonheads. The store carries them in bags, and in theater boxes.

      The bag is like 6 oz. The box is 5.5 oz, or something like that.

      Naturally I walk past the boxes and grab a couple bags and put them in my basket.

      Random lady: “You know they have whole boxes of those down there!”
      Me: “Yes, but the bags are 6 oz. and the boxes are only 5.5 oz.”
      Random lady: “…but it’s a *whole box*, not just a bag!”
      [wrinkles her face at me and walks by…grabbing a box of Lemonheads on the way]

    • Greggen says:

      But you have to check the sign because sometimes you have to buy 10 to get the deal. Nothing makes my blood pressure shoot higher is thinking something is a buck, and reviewing my reciept and seeing I was charged twice that because I did not notice the tiny type saying I must buy x amount to get that price. My grocery is doing that more and more.

      My solution is to not buy anything that requires a minimum purchase. I will bring it to the register, watch it ring, and then make the cashier take it off and deal with the restock when I get fed up. I will also go to customer service and ask for the manager and express my displeasure of this practice.

      • Rena says:

        They do this somewhat where I work. You have to check the tiny print on the tag, whether it says “groups of x” or “limit x”. The former case you have to buy multiples.

        When you talk about making them take it off again, it sounds like you’re taking your anger out on the cashier… keep in mind they have nothing to do with the prices. That said, I don’t care if you want to remove some items; I just hit delete, scan it, and toss it in the put-away bin. Though if you want to remove several, you might run into the limit and have to wait god knows how long for a supervisor to clear it…

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        No, it varies by state…which is why I said that in my post. In some states, if you advertise food at “10 for $10” you have to sell one for $1.

        • Greggen says:

          If it varies by state then your statement is not true in all states, so YOU HAVE TO CHECK, because sometimes when it says 10 for $10, 1 item does NOT cost $1.

          So, bottom line, like I originally said and you rudely claimed to be false.. You have to check.

    • El_Cheapocabra says:

      The magic phrase is “must purchase quantity stated,” sometime abbreviated MPQS. That means you have to buy X to get the items for $X. To avoid the confusion, I note MPQS on that item on my grocery list as it applies. Sometimes I just don’t want X of the item, and it’s not worth the savings. Two items for $1.39 each when I only need two (and only have storage space for two) is sometimes more practical.

      Now, if you can go in with a friend/coworker on it, these can be good deals. You can separate that part of the order onto its own receipt, usually.

  11. nautox says:

    Can someone please explain to my girlfriend that just because it’s at Costco, it’s not the best price…far from it. Especially when she has to throw half of it away because it goes bad before we can it all 5 lbs of whatever it was.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      I usually still beat the price at the local “conventional” grocer even if I toss half of it.

      Costco has some killer prices on some things. Better quality too.

      Gotta judge item by item though and actually pay attention to labels and pricetags and whatnot.

      Just bothering to pay any attention at all goes a long way.

    • Bibliovore says:

      For some food items, it works well to break the package up into amounts you’ll actually use at once and then freeze it in those separate volumes. For things that don’t freeze well, sometimes it’s nice to shop with friends and split the cost and contents of bulk purchases.

    • Errr... says:

      This is a bit off topic, but you should see what kinds of discounts you get for being a Costco member. My auto and home insurance provider gives me 15% off for being a member and the cell phone company I worked for previously gives you 5 or 10% off for being a member. It may help pay for the stuff that gets thrown away.

  12. lifeat24fps says:

    Those tempters! Oh, those evil tempters!

  13. Shine-runner says:

    We have a food4less they have killer deals on meat all the time, you would think people would be rushing in. Instead I wonder how the store stays in business. The steak is not all meat but at least 45 to 50% fat, they don’t trim it.I went to one store I bought chicken leg quarters on sale this week at the store, they had taken the fat and filled the inside of the thigh, some sale. Chicken breast 99 cents a pound, skinless chicken breast 1.89lb, the difference someone took the skin off, is that really worth another 99 cents? One of the reasons your seeing bogo, and odd pricing is walmart. The “we don’t price things this way” is walmarts excuse of how to get out of price match.

    • DogiiKurugaa says:

      Actually, Walmart now does price BOGO as long as the regular price is in the ad. And if you get a nice cashier (Yes, I know that I am talking about Walmart here) they will price match BOGO even without the regular price.

  14. reybo says:

    People whoi can read HATE videos.

  15. Difdi says:

    I usually make three passes through the store. I know what’s in my cupboard, and buy what’s missing at the time of the shopping trip.

    There are some items I always buy. I get those on the first pass. Things like a loaf of bread, or a couple cases of soda.

    There are some items I buy when I’m running low, but last more than a week. I get those on the second pass. Things like cheese, peanut butter, ketchup, etc.

    On the third pass, I spend any remaining money in my budgeted grocery amount on luxury foods that I like but don’t need or that I seldom buy. Frozen pizza, a nice juicy steak for the grill, ice cream, etc.

  16. waicool says:

    we’re sorry, you need to update your flash player so we can get paid for your “clicks” as you progress through our clever list of 8 things. i’m calling spam on this article.

  17. Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

    Always check your receipt carefully. Make sure all the discounts and coupons are applied in full. I get overcharged pretty often.

  18. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Save-A-Lot didn’t save me that much. I went in for milk and TP and found a bunch of other stuff I needed…..

    Don’t shop when you’re hungry.

    • moonunitrappa says:

      And don’t shop when you’re so full you’ll pop…I did this once and spent an hour in there going…nope…nope… ugh… nope… and then forgot to buy essentials. LOL

  19. The Cybernetic Entomologist says:

    The hand basket tip is a good one. And I’m sure there’s a direct correlation to the fact that my local walmart supercenter has all of a half dozen baskets in the entire store, and never by the front door.

  20. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    I just troll the aisles and take a cart I like when the person isn’t looking. Really cuts down on my shopping time.

  21. Razor512 says:

    Easiest way to save on food.

    calculate price per gram for all items you are thinking about buying.

    Consider buying in bulk if the price per gram is good.

    If you have a good neighborhood, see if you can get together with a bunch of people and order a small truck load of supplies. (most items can go nearly a year without expiring, so it doesn’t hurt to buy a 2-6 month supply of certain items. While prices on the store shelf frequently increase and almost never go down, wholesale prices over the years have not changed much. In fact, a store can go back to prices they had in 1995 and still make some profit of just about every item except yogurt and milk

    (most wholesale that supply to stores will often have minimum orders of $2000-5000 so if you do this, you need to have enough people spread out the cost, but if you can do it, you will often get common in store items for around 1/5th the price.

    If you need to buy items at the store, then look up whole sale prices and other prices around the country. A widespread increase in prices across multiple locations means that somewhere further down the supply chain had a price increase (where in which everyone in the supply chain promptly passed those expenses onto the consumer)

    If you see the prices climb and it is not a widespread thing, then stop buying the item.

    If people could have done this like 20 years ago, food prices would be half of what they are now.

    Also understand that most price increases come at point of sale level. Shops increase their prices and people continue to buy and stores have a huge increase in profit and income for a short while. Then people up the supply chain catch wind of it and also increase their prices to get in on the action, it all eventually works it’s way up to the top, then the cycle repeats it’s self.

    Remember, no business will charge more than what people are willing to pay. If you vote with your wallet and stop buying items when the prices go up, then you will see prices go down.

    (also for most companies that act as major food suppliers, when ever there is an overall increase in the cost of something like wheat, you also see their net income jump by a few billion dollars.

  22. dotkat says:

    People who are deaf or severely hard of hearing hate videos that are not captioned. If you’re going to include it in a post, please make sure it’s captioned or transcribe it. We can read, we just can’t hear. Thanks!

  23. coujo says:

    also, never go to the supermarket hungry or tired. the muzak will haunt your brain and suggest things you really dont want or need. and usually, its the most expensive stuff.

  24. Extended-Warranty says:

    With all of the claims that everything is changing to online shopping because “shoppers are so savvy”, you would think we would have mastered grocery shopping by now. It’s amusing listening to everyone’s tactics.

  25. Frank From Virginia says:

    No closed captioning.

  26. erratapage says:

    The best way to save money at the grocery store is to buy less processed foods. (The sole exception in my repertoire is canned tomatoes and low-carb pasta). Otherwise, shop the walls of the store, with very quick jaunts down the baking and canned tomato aisles. There is a myth that it costs more to buy fresh; but this is not the truth if you shop seasonally. It is also not the truth that cooking from scratch takes more time.

    Recently, I did a little math and discovered that it cost less for me to buy a lot of my vegetables at the farmer’s market and my meat at the local independent meat market that to shop at my local grocery store. ALDI does have great prices. So does Trader Joe’s.

    FInally, I don’t buy in bulk. For my family of two, there’s no point to it.

  27. gnubian says:

    you know, there’s one really important trick that seems to have gone by the wayside .. make a list of the things you need and stick to the list. taking it a step further, create a menu at home and buy for and replenish for the things that are used in the menu.

  28. Bagumpity says:

    Never put produce in the plastic bags they provide. For a laugh, pull a full roll of bags off its holder and weigh it. Then multiply by the price of nearby produce. Scary, isn’t it? Those bags pay for themselves BIG TIME. The same goes for the twisty-ties.

    It only amounts to a few cents a year, but why pay the extra? You can recycle old plastic bags for the same purpose.

    Also, never pay for produce you’re not going to eat. Those BAGS of grapes? Take the grapes out of them, give them a good shake to release the rotting loose grapes, and put the good ones in your basket.

    Recently, I’ve been seeing “on the vine” tomatoes. The vines aren’t there to keep the tomatoes fresh. They’re there to add weight to the item. Twist the tomatoes off the vines and throw the vines away. The same thing applies to the extra long stems on peppers. The supermarkets get away with making you buy celery with the leaves still attached (but those can be used in soup stock) and asparagus with the woody bottom stalks not trimmed off. It’s not like you can bring a knife with you to trip away the the useless stuff. Still, where it’s possible to remove inedible stems, leaves, whatever, there’s no reason for you to buy what you won’t eat.

    • JF says:

      They have a little button to push to tell the scale if it is in a bag or not to tare the scale properly. When I’ve used the self checkout, it asks if the item is bagged or not, sometimes even which type of bag when weighing an item at checkout.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I figured this out with grapes by the 2nd or 3rd time I bought them and I had to throw out a few grapes that were in the bottom, I knew I was definitely paying for those that I threw away, now I pick through them every time and take only what I will eat before they go bad. I have never been yelled at for picking through the grapes either. I better not be questioned when I am paying 3.99 for a pound of grapes in winter!

  29. SamEBates says:

    Plan meals for the month in advance. Make list. Stick to list. Stick to meal plan.

    Also, we calculate the price of each item by rounding up to roughly estimate tax. At the end, count up all the tallies and it gives you a very good idea of how much you’ll be paying.

    • Auron says:

      Rounding up to include tax is fairly easy here in MN, as most food items are not taxed. The only grocery items that are taxed are candy, pop, dietary supplements, and prepared food (ie hot deli items).

  30. NotLeftist says:

    No working speakers. Need text.

  31. jojobreckinridge says:

    One of the biggest mistakes is assuming that “nice” stores are categorically more expensive. I do 90% of my grocery shopping at Publix. I can’t tell you how many people respond to that with “ooooh, Publix is too expensive”. To which I think, “Good for you. Keep believing that.” I know so many people who swear by Bi-Lo and Ingles (I’m in S. Carolina), whose groceries I find truly overpriced, the stores often just plain nasty, and the employees insufferable.

    I typically plan out my meals for the week using the sales ad as inspiration. I write out a menu and take my printed grocery list with me. I try to only buy frozen foods, shelf-stable foods, personal items and cleaning/paper products when they are on sale or when I have a good coupon. I spend about an hour a week doing this, plus organizing/clipping my coupons. I don’t buy a bunch of shit we don’t eat and I typically only buy new products (that I’m not sure whether we’ll like) when they’re on sale. I always go through the whole store to scan for unadvertised specials and closeouts (which are easy to spot with their orange shelf tag). I scored 6 oz bags of Toll House chips for 59 cents a few weeks ago.

    I almost always save at least 25% off regular prices but usually try to shoot for 33% or more. I try to shop during the store’s less-crowded times–within an hour of opening or closing are great if you can make that work.

    We do go to Costco but are careful about our purchases. Gas is a given. Certain meat purchases (we smoke a $15 pork loin and get 4 meals out of it). Kirkland laundry detergent. Small appliances. Palmetto Cheese Pimento Cheese. 3 of us eat lunch at their food court for $8 and free samples throughout the store are an added bonus.

  32. 2 Replies says:

    Avoid “organic”. Often it’s just synonymous with “overpriced”.

  33. denverite says:

    We have 5 kids in the house and the savior is having a large commercial upright freezer.
    Then you can really stockup on frozen foods, vegetables, every sort of dinners/breakfast items, keep bread from going bad, the list is endless.

    Coincidentally, we tried the Costco/Sams Club route but found the hassle/scrounge factor wasn’t worth the very slim savings

  34. Paul @ The Frugal Toad says:

    I always check the unit pricing before I make a purchase. Sale priced items are not always the best buy. Also, beware of items on aisle endcaps as they are where grocery stores place items for impulse purchases. Last but most effective: buy only what is on your list!

  35. IGNORE says:

    Where are the 8 hints? I don’t see them,

  36. Vandil says:

    1. Make a list of things you *need* (daily/weekly consumables that must be replenished).
    2. Add things you *want* to have for a meal over the next few days or week.
    3. Allow $5 for whatever random thing you forgot or saw in the store that interested you.
    4. Stick to the plan.

  37. Anna Kossua says:

    Another trick they use: If they want to sell more of an item, put up a “Limit: xx” sign. The store had a display of soup cans, sale priced at 1.00. People bought some. Then they changed the sign: “$1.00, limit of 10.” Many people then bought ten cans.

    A local supermarket here does a “Buy 2, get 3 free” thing sometimes, usually on 12-pk. soda. You really have to think about whether it’s a deal: Retail is like $6.79. So 2 would be 13.58, divided by 5, ending up about 2.71 each. So it works out well, but then you have to carry home 5 boxes of soda! (Their “buy 1, get 1 free” deal lets you get one for half price, but this deal requires you to follow the terms.)

  38. moonunitrappa says:

    99 Cent Stores carries organic (on occasion) and normal produce/eggs/dairy (all the time) and normally high priced items at a steal. This is here in Los Angeles and in Dallas. Take that Supermarket.

  39. Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

    I return or price match items. I tend to shop at four different stores for food and household goods – two diff local ‘regular’ grocery chains, one ‘fancy’ local grocery chain and Target . I take my receipts with me when I shop. I track who has what items consistently cheaper and I will buy those items that I find for a lower price if I have not used the previously purchased item yet and/or I take a photo of the shelf label. I attempt a price match first, if that does not work I return the item. Most of my fresh and perishable items are from the fancy store so I do not worry about price matching those.

    Since I am at these stores on a regular basis, I am not going out of my way time or gas-wise. And I really have a solid idea about what each different store charges on a regular basis for all sorts of categories as well as what sales are truly a good buy.